In 1976, the Baltimore Orioles
finished second in the AL East with a record of 88-74. Offensively, a big part of the team's strength was their corner outfielders. Ken Singleton
played 154 games and batted .278/.366/.403 and Reggie Jackson
played 134 games and batted .277/.351/.502.
The next offseason, the Orioles lost Jackson to the New York Yankees
, one of the first big free-agent signings in major-league history (they also lost second baseman Bobby Grich
to the California Angels
). The Orioles moved Singleton from left field to right field, but that still left a hole in left field (as well as at second base).
For the next 12 seasons, from 1977
, the Orioles did not have a regular leftfielder. In fact, over those twelve seasons, the Orioles never had a player start even 100 games in one season in left field (John Lowenstein
started 98 in 1983
; Lowenstein appeared in over 100 games in LF in 1982
(110 g, 94 starts) and 1983 (107 g), and Gary Roenicke
appeared in 115 games (78 starts) in left field in 1979
). The Orioles finally had a regular left fielder again in 1989
when Phil Bradley
started 140 games there.
Yet, over this time period, the Orioles had a winning record nine times, played in two World Series (winning one
), and missed the playoffs on the final day of the season in a third season
. And the Orioles accomplished this, not "in spite of" not having a regular left-fielder, but, in fact, at their peak, in large part because
of the production they got from their left fielders.
So, how did the Orioles replace Reggie Jackson in left field? Honestly, they mostly did it with spare parts.
The Players who Played Left Field for the Orioles, 1977 - 1988
From 1977 - 1988, the Orioles platooned in left field. These platoons were not always strict and sometimes involved more than two players, but at their core, the Orioles had (at least) one left-handed batter and one right-handed batter who saw significant playing time in left field in each of these seasons. The first table below identifies the two principal platoon left-fielders for the Orioles for these twelve seasons.
*Mike Young was a switch-hitter.
Each of the players listed above had something in common: they all had better career Player won-lost records as Orioles than as non-Orioles (well, Stanicek didn't have a non-Orioles career). The table below compares (context-neutral) Player won-lost records for these guys as Orioles vs. as non-Orioles. The non-Orioles records are pro-rated to the same number of games played as the Orioles records (so that eWOPA and eWORL are comparable). The number of games shown in the table, however, reflect actual games played. The numbers below include games played at all positions, not just left field.
In some of these cases, one could argue that the numbers are biased toward the Orioles, who got the players in their prime: e.g., Gary Roenicke
was an Oriole from ages 23 - 30. But Pat Kelly
became an Oriole at age 32, as did John Lowenstein
, and Juan Beniquez's
only season as an Oriole was his age-36 season.
The key to the Orioles getting better production out of these players was not asking them to do too much and putting them in the best possible situations for them to succeed. Pat Kelly
is probably the quintessential example of this.
In his non-Orioles career (98% of which pre-dated his joining the Orioles), Pat Kelly batted .264/.353/.365. This was the 1970s, so that was actually a somewhat above-average offensive performance (the 1973 AL, for example, batted .259/.328/.381), but nothing particularly special, especially for a corner outfielder. Kelly was a left-handed batter with a fairly normal platoon split - 0.270/.358/.379 vs. RHP and .241/.332/.307 vs. LHP. In his non-Orioles career, he faced left-handed pitchers in 19.8% of his plate appearances.
Kelly's first season in Baltimore was 1977
. He started the season as the Orioles everyday left-fielder. His eventual right-handed platoon partner, Andres Mora
, was only 22 years old and started the season in the minor leagues. Mora made his first major-league appearance in 1977 on June 4th and started out fairly slowly. Through July 23rd, Mora had appeared in only 24 of 94 Orioles games and was batting only .206/.206/.492. From July 24th through the end of the season, however, Mora appeared in 53 of 68 Orioles games (with 43 starts) and batted .259/.281/.453 over 178 plate appearances.
Because of Mora's late and slow start in 1977, Kelly faced more left-handed pitchers than might be expected of a strict platoon player: 16.7% of Kelly's plate appearances in 1977 were against left-handed pitching. Kelly's batting splits were quite similar to his career totals: .258/.355/.381 vs. RHP, .241/.343/.345 vs. LHP. But because he faced slightly fewer lefty pitchers than he had previously in his career, his OPS in 1977 (.728) was slightly better than his career OPS through 1976 (.719) (although actually slightly below his OPS the two previous seasons with the White Sox
In Kelly's last three seasons in Baltimore, 1978 - 1980, he had a combined total of 28 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, versus 701 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. His batting line against right-handed pitchers was somewhat better than his career numbers, but not outrageously so, .279/.367/.455. His batting line against lefties was actually terrible those three seasons (.120/.214/.120 - he managed a grand total of three singles and no extra-base hits off lefties over these three seasons). But with the platoon advantage in 96.2% of his plate appearances, his overall line those three seasons was an OPS of .803, far better than his previous career-high of .759 in 1975.
The same story repeated itself in Baltimore (to somewhat different degrees) for John Lowenstein
, Gary Roenicke
, Juan Beniquez
, et al., over the next dozen years.
The Orioles' Left Fielder, 1977 - 1988, as a Single Player
The next table shows the "career" record of the Orioles' primary left fielders over these twelve seasons. The numbers below are for the two players per season identified above as the primary platoon partners for the Orioles each season and only include their record as left fielders. It does not include additional players who may have played some games in LF (e.g., Pat Kelly's 1979-80 performance is not included here, even though he appeared in 59 games in LF for the Orioles over these two seasons) nor does it include player performances at positions other than LF (e.g., it does not include the 31 games that Gary Roenicke started in CF and RF in 1979).
|1988||11.8||13.0||0.475||-0.9||0.1|| ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ |
|Total, 1977 - 88||179.4||168.9||0.515||3.5||17.9
So how do the Orioles left fielders over this time period compare to the man they replaced: Reggie Jackson
? From 1977 - 1980, Jackson played a key role on three American League East
division winners. Eventually, however, Jackson aged into a somewhat mediocre designated hitter whose final season was 1987. Still, we're talking about the second half of the career of a deserving first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
The next table shows how the Orioles' primary left fielders compared to Jackson from 1977 through 1988.
It turns out that the Orioles' left-field platoon almost matched the second half of Reggie Jackson's career, at least in terms of eWins over replacement level
More generally, what would the Orioles LF numbers above translate into in terms of a player career?
The next table compares the "career" of the Orioles' primary left-field platoon from 1977 to 1988 to all players who have made their MLB debut since 1947 whose career totals for eWins over positional average
(eWOPA) and replacement level (eWORL) are both within 0.5 wins of "Orioles LF".
The five players who make the above list include three middle infielders and a starting pitcher. All-star appearances and award voting are not the best measures of exactly how good a player is. Having said that, though, four of the five players on the above list were named to a combined nine All-Star games in their careers, and all five players received either MVP or Cy Young votes at least once (with a top finish of second by Matt Kemp
in MVP voting in 2011
Needless to say, that's a pretty respectable "player" that the Orioles managed to cobble together out of spare parts to put in left field over those twelve seasons.
All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.
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